Wander Woman: A women-led enterprise making travel safe, accessible for women

May 30, 2023

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Wander Woman currently consists of an all-female 12-member team, more than 60 volunteers and approximately 42,000 members. They offer guided international and domestic tours where groups of women can sign up to travel together.

What started as a Facebook page on a quiet September day in 2017, rapidly evolved into a registered revenue-generating company within six months. “That told me how much of a need and demand there is for this kind of space,” Sabira Mehran, founder of Wander Woman.

Sabira, essentially, built up an online community of female travellers from scratch. She managed to do so while maintaining a full-time job in the tech industry, first abroad and then at home. “Much credit goes to my hard-working team” she said. Last year Sabira fully transitioned to her entrepreneurial role as the founder and CEO of Wander Woman.

Travel does not come easy for women, especially for women in the subcontinent. One of the primary reasons is a lack of sense of safety and security. Then there is also a lack of confidence stemming from age-old patriarchal notions and values, as well as strict families. All this is generally coupled with constrained finances.

Founder and CEO Sabira Mehran (sitting on the right-centre) with part of her all-female team. Photo: Courtesy

Wander Woman is designed to address these issues that limit women from travelling. Its success is perhaps telling of Bangladeshi women wanting to travel.

Wander Woman currently consists of an all-female 12-member team (including two part-timers), more than 60 volunteers and approximately 42,000 members. And they offer guided international and domestic tours where groups of women can sign up to travel together. “This is the primary source of revenue,” said Sabira, among multiple other streams of income.

The objective at its core is simple – to expand travel facilities exclusively for women, and offer as much advantage as possible to encourage women to step out and explore new places.

What holds back women from travelling?

What Sabira observed is when it comes to travel, usually, the male counterpart takes charge of the finances and logistics. To break out of this stereotype, Wander Woman designed packages and scope for women to take the lead, and also gain confidence in the process.

“We tell them we are here to help and guide with the process,” explained Sabira, “we really encourage women to take charge of the itinerary, the finances.”

Photo: Courtesy

We conduct a travel consultation, where we connect [the traveller] to our in-house consultant who will have a 15- 20 minute call and provide an itinerary based on the customisation. So that’s something we are doing right now and this is something that is not offered in the country,” added Sabira. Another first in the country, according to the founder, is that travellers can pay for international and domestic tours hosted by Wander Woman without interest and during a period of time in installments. 

“We have partnered up with different banks for EMI facilities. We have also launched a travel loan – that is the first of its kind in Bangladesh, so you can take a loan up to Tk2 lakh based on your credit score and then you can go on a trip,” said Sabira. “Someone who has a minimum Tk20,000 monthly salary is eligible for travel loans.”

Wander Woman has also launched other types of services to make travel more accessible and affordable for women. Moreover, Wander Woman has served over 12,000 travellers in the last four years despite a pandemic, provided self-defence training to over 8,000 Bangladeshi women during the pandemic, hosted more than 400 events and trips exclusively designed for women in Bangladesh and also unlocked offbeat destinations such as Jordan, Uzbekistan, Morocco and South Korea.

Thus far, Wander Woman has also hosted trips to more than 50 global destinations.

Additionally, there is also scope to make the payment if the traveller does not have a credit card. In fact, anyone even without a bank account can avail the company’s facilities (once onboarded – which means a very thorough screening process by the Wander Woman team to ensure a safe community space), according to the founder.

Of mechanics and economics

According to Sabira, Wander Woman is a profitable business. At this point, it is bootstrapped with no external investor. “We are still talking to investors,” said the founder, who admits this is a decision she will not take lightly.

“It’s a very calculative one. I would say I’m still trying to understand the local network – the local startup ecosystem, connecting with fellow founders and understanding their challenges,” explained the founder.

The company received grants last year and this year. In 2022, they were also selected as among the top eight startups from the Springboard Programme in Bangladesh of Youth Co: Lab, an initiative co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation, which incubates youth-led startups with mentorship, grants, and networking support.

“We have been generating revenue since February 2018,” said Sabira. This was the first tour Wander Woman hosted consisting of 100 women. “And during the pandemic, we did not generate any revenue but we made money from paid partnerships and different digital events,” said Sabira.

Wander Woman also has partnered with big organisations such as Brac. “It is very important for me to understand the organisation’s ethos, their take on women’s travel, equality, etc,” said Sabira, “we do work with different women-focused brands and companies who want to promote their products and services to this community. And that’s when we do paid partnerships.”

The community events, hosted by Wander Woman where fellow travellers meet, also generate revenue because all of them have registration fees.

What started from a Facebook page with 200 people from Sabira’s Friend List, which she handpicked, has evolved.

“It started with no money, zero investment. Over time and soon, it started to generate revenue,” she said, adding that a business model like this has the potential to be scalable. Of course, there are caveats which warrant caution too.

” I cannot stress this enough, a passionate team who work towards the same goal, is key for Wander Woman’s success,” said the founder.

Talking about the changes she has observed over the last five years in the business of women’s travel, Sabira said, “I have observed a massive change. When I was starting, it was really difficult for me to find any [female] travel bloggers to place them as role models. Now, there are so many accounts on Instagram. There are so many Youtube vlogs and blogs.” Wander Woman claims that more than 1,000 travel accounts had been created as a result of the platform.

Sabira has seen a phenomenal shift. For instance, women who never properly documented their travel have their own travel accounts on social media. “And people who were not comfortable even talking about their trips or where they have been, share now – for instance, even their outfits, like shorts. They don’t care, or care less about the opinion of.”

There is also a social change in family dynamics. Young travellers are exposing their parents to travel possibilities. “We also get family members to come in with our members. We also have mothers we onboarded, also a growing base of older female travellers,” said Sabira, “and all of this is encouraging to see.”

Wander Woman initially focused on younger travellers “but then we have realised in the recent years that we are actually ignoring the women who never travelled — who have been struggling for their family members, working day and night,” explained Sabira, who stressed the importance of this shift amongst women traveller demographic too.

“Wander Woman aims to be the platform that can take Bangladeshi women to a global scale and represent their tenacity and ability to conquer the world,” concluded Sabira.

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